Reconnecting with My Dad’s Past… In France!

Because going to France means so much to my personal life and my childhood, it was my goal to meet my dad’s really good friend from back in the day. In all my recent travels, I like to connect it back to my dad somehow because it helps me get closure with my tragic loss.

Dinner with my dad's friend colleague/mentor/friend

I reached out to someone who was a mentor, friend, and colleague to my dad — someone who had such a big impact on my dad’s life that I will ever forget. It was so fun to reminisce knowing my dad was smiling from up above. It is a night that I will never forget and that I am so thankful for! I love being reminded of who my dad was and what his personality was like, because often times cancer fogs that image. The reconnection made me love my Paris trip even more!

Advertisements

Father’s Day – An Open Letter

Dear friends,

Happy Father’s Day – I was honestly inspired because I knew what was coming my way on Sunday. I was going to wake up to a flood of dad pics through social media feeds and a couple texts from family and friends. So, there are a few things I want you to know as we celebrate our fathers and father figures. See, I don’t feel the same pain that I used to on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and days like Father’s Day. I was always told that grief is the worst in its first year but I want you to know it’s just not as sharp. Now the loss of my father feels like a dull pounding. It’s not something that necessarily feels bigger or hurts more on Father’s Day but it’s something that throbs almost every single day. It’s the reaction to watching dads hold their baby’s hand on the street that makes me cry without realizing it. It’s the feeling I get trying to do my taxes or build furniture. It’s the urge to call my dad after my first week at a new job and it’s what makes me shake when I’m scared. It’s also a feeling that makes me smile when my friends tell me stories about their dads. It’s what makes me write cards to my mom and call all my uncles. It’s the emotion that drives me to make him proud every single day. The throbbing doesn’t just remind me that he’s gone but that he’s alive with what I choose to do and how I choose to do it. I talk to strangers (when it seems safe) because my dad did it and I don’t take things too seriously because really, I can’t think of a time my dad ever did. I try to make a difference because my dad did for countless people. Most of all, I try to live life to its fullest, even with that throbbing, because my dad lived every day like it was his last. A lot of who I am (for good and bad) is because of my dad and a lot of who you are is because of your dad. This is why Sunday isn’t the only day to celebrate your father and father figures – it should be everyday. It’s the little things that you do and say where you take after him. It’s something to be thankful for and something to put into words. Time is so valuable; it’s never too early or late to celebrate what makes life precious, like our fathers. And with that, I send everyone I know my best Father’s Day wishes and love.

Sincerely,

Devika (Samira’s sister)

The Last Two Years of My Grief

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. These last two years of grief have been unexpectedly exhausting.

After I lost my dad, I felt like I was in a mental state ready to grieve, like it was a goal I was trying to accomplish. I recently realized grief is not a goal to accomplish, it is a state to adjust to and a feeling to feel. I realized that my pain and grief will probably never stop, it will just change over time.

Soon after my dad’s death, I read all about the 5 stages of grief. According to the famous Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I thought that if I went through the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression I would have to reach that acceptance. Oh, was I wrong. I went through a lot of denial, and maybe I’m still going through it. I went through a lot of anger and depression, something that I know I am still going through. All I knew was that I was so tired of going through these negative emotions. I wanted to know that all of this would lead me to acceptance and happiness. I thought that accepting the fact that I wasn’t happy would somehow lead to happiness. But, it’s such a roller coaster. I wouldn’t really say that there has been much smooth sailing, especially because I got so fragile. My heart already cracked when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and then immediately shattered when he passed away. It took every ounce of strength to tape my heart back together. But because all of the other major events going on in my life (like going to college and moving houses) I had to use really weak tape. So, when something bad happens to me that really isn’t a big deal, I would see it as a big deal and pieces of tape would fall off. I am only now learning how to cope with this.

Last year, I knew something was missing in my life and I missed my dad so much. I wanted to tell him everything that was happening in my life and I tried to make him proud of me. But, this year I feel heartache and sadness. I try to eat healthy, get a full night’s sleep, and do something everyday that makes me happy to cope with this heartache.

They say that young kids don’t understand that death is final and irreversible, but even when I was 18 years old I did not understand that. I kept expecting to see my dad pop up somewhere. I kept thinking that I would go home for the weekend from college, and he would be there waiting to greet me. I would day dream of my dad popping up in my life. Occasionally I still day dream, but not so much anymore.

I might have made some ‘mistakes’ and fell down a couple times, but I strongly believe that if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have grown in these last two years, especially this last year.

The Cancer Story

Disclaimer: I debated with myself for a long time whether I should publish this or not because I originally wrote this for a college assignment. Please keep in mind there is so so so much more to my story and remember that I am still going through my cancer story and still grieving. There are some things I still can’t talk/write about and not sure if I ever will be able to. I also highly suggest not reading this if your parent is currently battling cancer. 

I watched it. I watched him die every single day. I watched him lie in his hospital bed helplessly. I watched him talk to the Hospice workers about moving back home. I watched the Hospice workers explain the point of a “Do Not Resuscitate Form” and I watched my mom sign it. I watched him suffer to say just one word every so often. I watched him become skinnier than me, his underweight daughter. I watched him try with much struggle and determination to take a sip of Coke. I watched him agonize to eat half a spoon of yogurt. I watched him take his last breath. I watched my mom scream his name during the last minutes of his life. I watched my uncle give him CPR. I watched the nurse take his pulse, and just shake her head. I watched my dad die.

I watched strangers bring flowers into my home. I watched family come together for the first time in my life. I watched a real life experience.

Two years before this life-changing occurrence, my dad was diagnosed with the “c word”, or to what most people call it – cancer. I was 16 years old at the time; I was worrying about girls gossiping about my outfits and hairstyle, boy crushes, and of course, studying for the SAT. In a moment, I went from a daughter to a caretaker. In May of 2011 I started to sense something was wrong – I just didn’t know what. I would overhear my mom cry every night; my sister unexpectedly flew back from the East Coast for the whole summer; and I found multiple blood test forms signed ‘R. C. Agarwal’ at the bottom. My dad was 51 at the time, so I thought he was going through some extra check ups, since he was now ‘over the hill’. On a Sunday afternoon my mom came upstairs to my room and said, “Please come downstairs when you’re done with your homework. Dad wants to tell you something.” I immediately put my pencil down and slowly walked down the stairs with my heart beating like a woodpecker pecking at a fresh piece of wood. At that moment, I knew something more somber was going on. My dad sat my sister and I down and told us he had a tumor. He proceeded to explain that he didn’t know the details about it and he didn’t know if it’s cancerous. He did make a promise to the three of us – he promised that he would be okay. The tumor turned out to be fourth stage colorectal cancer.

At first, the cancer was responding perfectly to the chemotherapy. The doctors even said they might have misdiagnosed my dad! However, the tables turned in October of my senior year; while I was focusing on college applications and all of the exciting senior festivities, my ‘healthy’ parent became sick and my sick parent was worsening day by day. As I was leaving for my senior day of spirit week, I overheard my mom crying to my dad. Then, I heard the word surgery. My first instinct was that my dad needed a surgery. I ran to my dad crying and asked what all of this was about. It turned out that it was my mom who needed a surgery as soon as possible. She ended up having a long and complicated surgery because of pre-ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts. I vividly remember my dad and I waiting outside her room with an outrageous amount of chocolate and a bouquet of red roses. She spent the night in the hospital and came home the next evening. Later that week, my dad’s chemotherapy dosage became much more hazardous and life threatening.

During this time in my life, my responsibilities amplified. I was cooking, cleaning, taking care of both of my parents, and of course being a student. One day while I was cooking, I was struggling to open a jar of olives. I couldn’t open it, and if you were to ever see my scrawny arms you would know that I couldn’t even open a water bottle without some struggle. I looked at my mom, and all she did was shake her head, left and right. Then, I looked at my dad who was recovering from his last chemotherapy session and he tried, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to open it. I tried opening the jar again and failed. I put it back in the fridge and continued cooking for us without the olives.

After the jar episode, I noticed my dad’s body starting to diminish. He was losing more weight than ever. One Tuesday afternoon I came home from school and immediately went upstairs to put my stuff down and change into comfortable clothes. I heard my dad yelling my name. I hustled downstairs anxiously to see if he was doing okay. I came downstairs to find an IV in his port and him holding this box with a little screen. I just stared in shock. The chemotherapy was currently running through his blood streams. I had never seen such a thing.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, this is just some extra medicine. I have to keep it in for 2 days. Don’t worry; it’s not a big deal. I need your help. I need you to take my shirt off and fix the IV needle and then put a different shirt on and help me lay down.”

I was never so scared in my life. I was scared to touch him. I was scared that I would mess something up. And, I was scared that this was a sign of the cancer getting worse.

Every month his chemotherapy intensified, causing his side effects to worsen. On April 15th, 2013 my dad fell asleep downstairs on the couch. Around midnight, I heard excruciating yelling. He was crying, “I am in so much pain. Help me. Help me.” My mom and I had no idea what to do, so we carried him to the guest room bed and made sure he was comfortable enough to get some sleep for his chemotherapy the day after.

On April 16th, my parent’s 24th wedding anniversary, I texted my mom during my statistics class and said, “How’s dad’s chemotherapy going? Need me to pick up anything after school?” She replied, “He didn’t have chemotherapy. We’re at the hospital.” I said, “What’s going on? Is everything okay? Should I come after school?” She replied, “No, you can come tomorrow.”

At that point, I knew it was serious. It was pretty normal for my dad to be in the hospital, but no matter what chemotherapy session or procedure, he refused to spend the night in the hospital. Right after school, I drove down to the Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose and found my way to room 512. One of our family friends, who happened to be a doctor at the hospital, walked me down the hallway to get ice cream. College decisions were due in about two weeks, so she proceeded to ask me where I wanted to go for college and I explained to her that I wanted to stay close to home because of my dad’s health. She said, “Go where you want to go because your dad won’t see you go to college. Samira, your father is dying.”

The “c word” made me understand life in a whole new way. The tragic event led me to realize how much my dad sacrificed for his family. Cancer taught me what sick patients, no matter the disease or disorder, go through. It made me empathize with sick people across the globe. Being a caretaker at 16 years old forced me to make decisions, think, and act like a 36 year old. I matured to a degree that many adults have yet to reach. I watched my best friend take his last breath, but I also changed into a human who only wants to benefit society, specifically teenagers coping with a cancerous parent. The heartbreaking loss inspired me to start a blog (www.copingwithcancer.org) to touch peoples’ hearts. I take full pride in the person I am today, and I have no one but my supportive mom and late, selfless dad to thank for that. Whether my dad is physically with me or not, I am still motivated to follow my dreams and ambitions because I know he will always be in my heart.

Miss you more each day.

Miss you more each day.

I am Thankful for My Father Figures

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!! This is my favorite time of the year — everyone sharing why they are thankful, the Christmas music in the stores, the smell of gingerbread cookies in my mother’s kitchen, and the generous, giving vibes floating around.

Here are a few of my father figures (and cousin) who have guided me through all my confused moments when I was in need of a dad.

Here are a few of my father figures (and cousin) who have guided me through all my confused moments when I was in need of a dad.

I’m so thankful for everything in my life, but I wanted to specifically thank all of my father figures and all of those who have been there for me through the thick and thin. I’m always looking for some advice and guidance, because ever since I lost my dad to cancer I have felt so lost. I always think, “am I doing this right?”

The great thing is that my dad died knowing I was being left in amazing hands to take care of me. He made sure that I had multiple father figures to take care of me, and give me some helpful daddy-advice whenever I was in a pickle.

It’s hard being in college without a dad because it feels like every single decision you make will determine your future. I am always so confused if I am involved in the right things, and if I’m taking the right classes, and if I’m even majoring in the major that’s for me. Thankfully I have amazing father figures to guide me through all my confused moments of life and will continue to guide me when I am in need of a daddy.

 

One Year Ago I Found Out My Dad Was Going to Die

April 16, 2013. My world started falling apart. I walked into the Good Samaritan Hospital and felt my heart drop. I knew this was not just the regular doctor visit. I found my way around the hospital and came up to my dad’s room. When I walked in he yelled, ‘Lulu Lulu!’ (This nickname will be explained in another blog post.) I was so happy to see him and he was so happy to see me.

He was not doing well. He was very sick at this point. I knew something was wrong, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself.

Our family friend who works in that hospital came in my dad’s room. She walked me down the hall to get me some ice cream (I always see kids get unlimited ice cream at hospitals, so I simply asked!). We walked down the hall into the kitchen on the oncology floor. College decisions were due in two weeks, so we started talking about my options. At this point, I honestly didn’t give it much thought because my dad was getting more sick by the day. She asked me what college I wanted to go and what college my parents wanted me to go to. I answered with the college I wanted to go to and explained to her how I should go where my parents want me to. The college my parents wanted me to go to was really close to home and had a great reputation. I told her that I want to be close to home especially because of my dad’s health. She said, “Go where you want to go to college because your dad won’t see you go to college. Samira, your father is dying.”

I cried in her shoulders for a few minutes, wiped my tears, got myself ice cream and got my dad ice cream. I walked down the hall with a fake smile on my face and came into my dad’s hospital room excited to eat ice cream with him. Only later did I realize that this was going to be the last time I ate ice cream with him.

Throughout the day, he never said anything about him dying. I heard my mom crying on the phone outside his room to multiple people but she never really told me anything either because she was too busy dealing with phone calls and doctors, and of course my father’s needs. One of our really good family friend took me to the library down the hall a few hours later. She sat me down and explained to me that this was real. She said that this is it. She said explained to me that the chemotherapy stopped working and there is nothing else the doctors could do. I asked her a few questions and she answered. We just sat there in silence for sometime. I cried for sometime. I walked back to the hospital room to find more of my family friends. Some of our other very good family friends sat in the car while I drove to her house to spend the night with her daughters, whom I consider my sisters.

I could barely drive because I was crying so hard. My head was pounding. I couldn’t think straight. I felt like throwing up. I stopped by at my house to feed my dog and pick up my stuff to spend the night at their house. My mom was living in the hospital with my dad and my sister was in the East Coast at this point.

I came to my family friend’s house and walked  into her room. We looked at each other and neither of us said a single world. I just started howling. I cried and I cried. I tried to throw up. Nothing came out because I didn’t eat anything the whole day. I drank some water and took some Advil. I fell asleep crying in my family friends arms.

 

Happy Birthday, Daddy

My dad was truly an amazing person. He was the life of every party, the captain of every team, the sunshine on a cloudy day, the tickle monster when in a grumpy mood. He made every guest and every relative feel so at home in his house. He was the most generous and selfless man I had ever met in my life. My dad never forgot anyone’s birthday or anniversary. He was a best friend to many people and always helping others. He never showed his pain while going through chemotherapy. He was always smiling, whether it was during the economic recession or the day he was admitted to the hospital he was making some sort of joke. He made his last joke within the last hour of his life. His last words were thank you.

So, thank you dad. Thank you for teaching me everything important in life. Whenever I would fail a test, you would actually laugh at me and say, “Let’s make a bet on you failing the next one.” Thank you for showing the importance of hope and positivity. Thank you for hiding your pain during the last month of your life to make it easier for your friends and family. Thank you for the being such a caring husband, brother, and son. Thank you for being the greatest dad any little girl could ever ask for.  Thank you for being my hero. Thank you for leaving your legacy, and I promise I will live by it now. And, Happy Birthday.

Happy birthday to the man who inspired this blog!

Happy birthday to the man who inspired this blog!

Cancer Does Not Mean Death

Throughout my blog, I have mentioned the death of my father. However, I would like to make it very clear to my readers that cancer does not mean death. Cancer survival rates depend on many things such as the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and so much more. I strongly believe cancer survival rates shoot up with positivity, hope, and faith within the whole circle of family and close friends. I also believe the reason my dad did so incredibly well during his first year and a half of chemotherapies was because of the positivity not only that he had, but every single one of our close friends and family members had.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, death crossed my mind multiple times. It’s like you’re always living in fear. It’s also completely normal to have these thoughts. You always think that you’ll come home from school one day and your parents will sit you down and tell you that the treatments aren’t working as well as they should be. I always tried not to think about it and stay in high spirits through the thick and thin. If it started creeping through my head, I would start thinking about how my dad was such an amazing person and an amazing person like that doesn’t deserve death at a young age. But then again, no one deserves death at any age.

Try not to think about the future so much. Focus on the present. Do everything you can to help your parent get through this. Even if it’s the smallest deed, like just sitting there with them during a chemotherapy session while they fall asleep would help them immensely. Being happy around a sick person helps an infinite amount, trust me.

Sometimes we have to put ourselves in our parent’s shoes. Of course my dad never wanted to see me cry. He never wanted me to think that his cancer was stopping my life. He hid his pain from his loved ones around him, especially myself, my mom, and my sister. He didn’t want to be a burden. No sick person does. So, be elated around them. It’s truly a win-win situation and it will help their prognosis. Fight the cancer with your parents and spread the positivity within your circle- don’t let death be associated with your cancer story.

Coping Strategy #3

Sleep!

Sleeping is an essential part of the human body’s daily routine. We often forget how important our sleep is because most of us are too busy thinking about a bigger problem- our parent’s cancer.

  • Infants should get about 14 hours of sleep.
  • Children and teenagers should get about 9-10 hours of sleep.
  • Adults should get about 8 hours of sleep.

Getting the right amount of sleep makes learning new things and memorizing much easier. It also helps stabilize your metabolism and blood pressure. Your irritability and mood swings significantly decrease. Sleep keeps your cardiovascular system and immune system healthy as well.

When you find out your parent has cancer (or there was a change in the chemotherapy, chemotherapies aren’t working, your parents’ life is coming to an end, etc.) it is natural to feel unbelievably tired. The day I found out my dad was dying I cried so much and my head was throbbing a ridiculous amount. I fell asleep really quickly but I had a very hard time staying asleep. I probably woke up every single hour. I ended up waking up every hour when my dad was on Hospice Care. I also woke up multiple times when my dad was sick and an excessive amount the few days after a chemotherapy cycle. I still wake up every single hour while coping with my father’s death. I feel so tired during the day and I am always lacking energy now. All I want to do is sit around and have a pretend conversation about my dad.

But then, I had a realization. I seriously needed to get my life together. I started trying a lot of things to make me tired during the day and relaxed at night leading to a good nights’ sleep.

I started having tea after dinner to help me relax. (Obviously the tea is decaffeinated) I still have my tea and I love it! I usually have the Chamomile tea (Sleep Time Tea) from Trader Joe’s or the decaffeinated tea from the brand, “Mighty Leaf”. Mighty Leaf has delicious flavors like Organic African Nectar, my favorite! The two weeks after my dad passed away consisted of spending time with family and listening to everyone give their condolences (which is very tiring). I started going back to school which was also very draining for me because I had so much make up work. Going to school also took out all of the energy in my body to fake my smile and pretend I was okay considering not a single person understood my pain. Summer came around and there were enough house errands and family members to see to exhaust me. The days I had nothing to do, I found a hobby, like practicing an instrument or exercising.

Sleeping the full 8-10 hours is part of being healthy and being kind to your body. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night and all you think about is your sick parent, take some time for yourself before you go to bed. Have a bubble bath. Maybe try some delicious tea. You could even do yoga or journal!

Remember you have the right to feel the way you feel. Having a parent with cancer is one of the hardest things to overcome. Don’t let your worries and concerns affect your sleep. It’s important to wake up refreshed (and be ready to deal with the new day’s emotions). It’s  vital to keep your body healthy when trying to make your parent’s body healthy. Never forget about yourself and your needs.